Senate Budget Chairman Conrad goes further than Obama in plan to reduce deficits

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A spending plan drafted by the Senate Budget Committee chairman would reduce deficits by slashing spending on programs unrelated to national security and forcing lawmakers to pay for popular tax policies, including provisions that protect middle-class families from the bite of the alternative minimum tax.

The proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) envisions far tougher restraints than President Obama offered in the request he sent Congress in February. While Obama would freeze non-defense spending for three years, Conrad would cut deeper, trimming an additional $9.5 billion from those programs in 2011 -- about half of it from Obama's signature Pell Grant expansion.

Conrad also would jettison Obama's call to extend expensive tax breaks without covering their cost. While middle-class tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration would be extended past their scheduled 2010 expiration, lawmakers would have to pay for lowering the estate tax and protecting millions of taxpayers from the AMT after 2012.

Conrad's blueprint, set to be considered Wednesday by the Budget Committee, would cut the annual deficit to $545 billion by 2015 -- or 3 percent of the overall economy. That figure is $250 billion lower than under Obama's request and meets the target the president has set for a special deficit commission scheduled to convene next week.

Conrad called his blueprint tough but "realistic . . . given the state of our finances." However, it remains unclear whether Democrats can muster the support to pass it in advance of this fall's midterm elections. Senate leaders have pledged to bring a budget to the floor, but House leaders have yet to decide whether to ask lawmakers to ratify the gloomy budget picture.

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